The first time Keenan Reynolds saw a Navy football game, the Midshipmen were three-touchdown underdogs to sixth-ranked Ohio State in the 2009 season opener.
Reynolds was a sophomore at Goodpasture Christian School outside Nashville, Tenn., and was barely on anyone's recruiting radar. As he watched the game on television, Reynolds started paying attention to Navy quarterback Ricky Dobbs.
Dobbs, then a junior who had just taken over as the starter, nearly led the Midshipmen to an upset win in Columbus. Navy cut a 29-14 deficit to two points with a little over two minutes left, only to lose, 31-27, when a pass by Dobbs on a 2-point conversion was intercepted and returned to the other end zone.
"As I got older, it wasn't like I was following Navy football, I just knew who Ricky was," Reynolds recalled last week. "He was the face of Navy football."
That is where Reynolds finds himself going into the 2014 season opener, also against the Buckeyes. There is irony, and symmetry, in the junior quarterback's chance to do one of few things Dobbs could not while at Navy.
The Midshipmen on Saturday will play fifth-ranked Ohio State, still favored but suddenly vulnerable after a season-ending shoulder injury to quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate Braxton Miller, at M&T Bank Stadium.
As it became apparent to Reynolds that he was headed to Annapolis, he began looking into what Dobbs had done at Navy, including a 19-8 record as a starter. When he arrived at the academy in summer 2012, Reynolds watched tape of the way several quarterbacks — Dobbs, in particular — ran the triple option for the Midshipmen.
Dobbs' legacy loomed when Reynolds took over as a starter five games into his freshman year. Dobbs helped beat Army twice and Notre Dame twice, and he broke Tim Tebow's single-season NCAA record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback.
The comparisons intensified when Reynolds, the first plebe to start at quarterback in more than 20 years, went 6-2 as a starter as a freshman. Reynolds would go on to break Dobbs' record, and he still has two years to add to his legacy, one he stresses is all about winning.
"When I was coming in my freshman year, it wasn't a thought: 'I got to beat Ricky's [single-season touchdown] record,'" Reynolds said. "Even coming into my sophomore year, I wasn't even thinking about the record.
"I think about what he's done. I certainly want to outdo that as far as winning games. Naturally, the competitor in me wants to outdo that, but at the end of the day, he's Ricky, I'm Keenan. I've taken a lot of advice from him. He's definitely been something of a mentor to me. But if you're chasing ghosts and try to outdo something in the past, that can get you distracted."
Since coming off the bench to lead Navy back from an eight-point, fourth-quarter deficit in an overtime win at Air Force in 2012, Reynolds has outdone Dobbs in many ways.
In two seasons, Reynolds has rushed for 1,995 yards and 41 touchdowns and passed for 1,955 yards and 17 touchdowns, with only four interceptions.
Reynolds has helped the Midshipmen win two straight Commander-in-Chief's trophies. He has won 15 of 21 starts. He broke the record shared by Dobbs and former Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein with 31 rushing touchdowns last season, including seven in a three-overtime win at San Jose State.
In December, Dobbs, who recently finished navigational training in Newport, R.I., was at sea when he heard from his commanding officer that Reynolds had broken the NCAA record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback during Navy's victory over Army. Dobbs beamed.
"I'm always bragging [about] him, 'That's my little sponsor brother," said Dobbs, who introduced Reynolds to Richard Gray, a local attorney who along with his wife, Kim, has sponsored midshipmen for more than a decade. (Navy's sponsorship program pairs midshipmen with local families they can spend time with away from the academy.)
Dobbs understands the role he has played in Reynolds' development.
"It makes a world of difference when the quarterbacks that come before you take an interest in you," he said. "No matter what I was able to do, even if I wouldn't have won a game at Navy, I would still invest in the guys that came after me and give them some insight."
Though Dobbs was very close to Trey Miller, whom Reynolds replaced at quarterback, he felt a connection to Reynolds as well. While Reynolds is more reserved than Dobbs, the former Navy star saw some similarities in the way Reynolds carried himself.